The peak of Sancerre's hill seen from the vineyard of the village of Chavignol
If you were walking through the hill-top town of Sancerre 120 years' ago, you might have met an enterprising vigneron called Maurice Vacheron. He would probably have told you that his Pinot Noir was "better than Burgundy" and that you should drink it in preference to the newcomer, Sauvignon Blanc.
Starting with a single hectare of vines, the domaine today has expanded to 70ha, with 50ha being planted (38ha of Sauvignon & 12ha of Pinot Noir).
Vacheron wines are much sought-after and are considered to be some of the best available from the region.
Frazier's have had the "basic" Sancerre Blanc for a while now, but we've decided to take the plunge and stock some of their rarer bottlings, as there are people out there who can actually afford to drink such things!
The estate is made up of many small, lieu-dits vineyards which are situated all around the town and there's even a single site, L'Enclos des Remparts, within the town walls itself which, due to an oversight when the appellation was created, can only be sold as a Vin de France... at £150 a bottle!
Today, the fourth generation cousins, Jean-Laurent Vacheron and Jean-Dominique Vacheron are the proud owners and they're developing new facilities in the heart of the town both for modern winemaking and for tourism (a restaurant).
Which sort of "Rock" do you like? No, not that kind... although these are wines which are turned up to "11", albeit in a subtle way!
The soils of Sancerre are very important in influencing the style of the wines. Some are Silex (flint), some are Caillottes (limestone) and there's even a layer of red clay. The entry level wine uses a combination of fruit sourced from all three soils giving good complexity.
Noticeably, since certification in 2005, all the vineyards are now organically farmed using biodynamic principles and, at harvest, all the grapes are hand-picked. Natural, wild yeast fermentation is completed in a combination of stainless steel, large oak vats, or cement tanks and most of the wines are also aged in oak casks with the wines being bottled unfined and unfiltered, keeping more flavour and texture. The "hands-on" approach really does make a difference to the quality.
Vacheron's superb Sancerre made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
The above 2020 wine is available in decent quantities, but the 2021 vintage was very much reduced.
Fabulously aromatic nose, concentrated gooseberry fruit flavours, all carefully balanced by a rich smokiness and steely dry palate. A mineral, elegant and long finish.
Now we come to a pair of Vacheron's single vineyard wines.
Firstly, the Chambrates which is a south facing vineyard situated on a plateau above Le Paradis with very poor, rocky limestone soil over a layer of red clay.
This is a rich, expressive wine that shows off the influence of the clay sub-soil. Aromatically, the wine has lemon curd and white flower notes. The palate is fleshy with citrus fruit and a minerally finish.
That's scary! You probably weren't expecting that face, but goat's cheese, particularly the local Chavignol version from Sancerre, is a perfect match with the Vacheron's wines. Another reason to check out the area.
The second, single vineyard wine now listed by Frazier's is Les Romains
It's based on pure flint (Silex) soil on a steep slope which faces south and has vines between 20 and 50 years' of age.
Aromatically, the wine shows white flowers and citrus and, in this latest 2020 vintage, these are joined by white peach, orchard fruit and a flinty smokiness. On the creamy palate, it has powerful flavours, along with minerals, smoke and sea salt on the finish.
The Vacheron cousins also make some spectacular reds from Pinot Noir including their standard cuvée, and wines equivalent in quality to a Burgundy Grand Cru, such as Belle Dame and Les Marnes. All, unfortunately, not currently listed. Pressure will be brought to bear, but, no doubt, to no avail.
If you come across their reds, make sure to buy some.
All in all, a fantastic selection of wines which need to be tried by all lovers of French wines.